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Senate panel OKs funding for school fee waivers

SHARE Senate panel OKs funding for school fee waivers

A bill that would give schools $1.5 million to help with fee waivers granted to disadvantaged students was approved by the Senate Education Committee and it appears this year it will be funded.

The bill has been approved but not funded in past legislative sessions. But this year for the first time, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, co-chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Committee, is in support of it.

"I have to admit that the first few years I did everything I could to kill it, and succeeded, but last year it occurred to me that I have been an advocate in equalizing school funding ... this is a similar situation that needs some equalization," Stephenson said. "The impact on these districts with fee waivers really hit hard and we need to provide some support."

He said he used to think that the waivers were given "willy-nilly" and a lot of abuse accompanied the practice but is now satisfied that districts have cleaned up abuse and waivers are distributed appropriately.

HB68, sponsored by Rep. Lou Shurtliff, D-Ogden, would allow $40 per child receiving a fee waiver. Districts would have to account for spending in annual reports.

Proponents said the bill will help to somewhat level the playing field and while the funding will not completely cover all the money lost to fee waivers it does give schools some help. Some schools in districts like Salt Lake City and Ogden have as many as 50 percent of students qualifying for fee waivers.

"We are totally in support of this —the problem is getting bigger and bigger each year and causing serious problems throughout the state," said Steve Peterson, executive director of the Utah School Boards Association.

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com